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Two-car giveaway changes women's lives

Sooke resident Mickey Cherneski recently gave away her 2003 Cavalier to a family in need, and convinced a Victoria car dealership to donate a 1988 Oldsmobile Delta 88 to a local resident living on disability payments.

Geoff Howe for The Globe and Mail/geoff howe The Globe and Mail

When a Vancouver Island woman bought a new car, she didn't trade in or sell her old one. She decided to give the well-maintained vehicle to someone who truly needed it.

Little did Mickey Cherneski know that her generosity would set the wheels in motion for a two-car give-away.

In late March, Ms. Cherneski created a Facebook page called "I'm giving away a car" after she bought a new 2012 Honda Civic.

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Within days, the Sooke resident got 60 requests, one from as far away as Thunder Bay, from people who wanted her 2003 Chevy Cavalier with 228,000 kilometres on it. "People are really hurting out there," she said.

Most of the pleas came from women, including single mothers, but cancer patients and one foster child made their cases.

Ms. Cherneski, 49, a divorced, working mom with a 24-year-old daughter, carefully checked the requests. "I wanted to give the car to someone who needed a car and [was]not too lazy to work for one," she said.

It came down to two women.

One was a 25-year-old from Courtenay with three children, two of them with significant medical problems, which requires trips to Victoria. The second was a 63-year-old Sooke woman living on disability payments who frequently travels to Victoria for medical treatment.

Ms. Cherneski settled on the mother, Bobbi Ann Larsen, opting to help a family of five versus one person.

But Ms. Cherneski couldn't forget Vicki Farmere's plight.

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"She should have it easy at this point," she said of the 63-year-old.

So in a random selection, Ms. Cherneski visited Galaxy Motors, a 240-vehicle used-car lot in Colwood, 25 kilometres east of Sooke. She explained the story to general manager David King.

On Friday the 13th, Galaxy's owner Phil Dagger gave the go-ahead for a 1998 Oldsmobile Delta 88 courtesy car worth about $2,500 to be given to Ms. Farmere.

Mr. King said that, impressed by Ms. Cherneski's willingness to give away her car, Galaxy, which has given at least three other vehicles to people in need, was happy to oblige.

"Often when people do things for charity, they benefit from it with tax breaks, but Mickey wasn't," said Mr. King. "It was exciting for us to match that opportunity."

While she could have sold the Cavalier, Ms. Cherneski didn't want the hassle of dealing with potential buyers and haggling over the price.

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"If I got some money, I would have spent it on stuff. I don't need more stuff," she said.

Trade-in value would have been $400-$500, Mr. King added.

Instead, the pleasure and gratitude she's received far exceed any monetary value. "At the core of my being, I believe when you're on your way up, it's your responsibility to reach down and bring someone up with you," she said. "This experience has been absolutely overwhelming for everyone."

For Ms. Larsen, on medical leave from her grocery store cashier job, having a car is life-changing. "To get to a 10-minute doctor appointment used to take three hours by bus," she said.

Ms. Larsen has a six-year-old autistic son who also has Tourette's syndrome, and a two-year-old son who was born 2 1/2 months early and now has significant developmental delays. Her four-year-old son is healthy.

Before getting her car, she had to take her sons on the Greyhound bus 220 kilometres to Victoria at least once a month for medical treatments. The bus alone cost about $200 and they were away three days.

Monthly insurance on her fuel-efficient, well-maintained car is $127.

A recent trip to Victoria by car was Ms. Larsen's least stressful in three years of travel.

And with the car, she can take her eldest son to therapeutic horseback riding.

She considers her benefactor one of the most selfless, trusting people she's ever met.

"I could have taken the car and sold it," she said.

For her part, Ms. Cherneski wanted to make someone's life easier, and she did it doubly. "For people that don't have a vehicle, it's a nightmare.

"I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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